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Charlies Bunion

The 4 Most Epic Trail Runs in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tour the Great Smoky Mountains on one of these 4 epic trail runs loaded with views, history, mountain peaks, and more!

Trail Running Difficult, Severe

Charlies Bunion
Charlies Bunion Photo: Justin Meissen


Located along the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an array of stunning hiking, camping, and of course – trail running opportunities. Though it's famous as America’s most-visited National Park, there are plenty of backcountry opportunities to escape the crowds via an epic trail run. In fact, local running tour company, White Dot Adventures, suggests that one of the best ways to explore the park is on one of these top 4 epic trail runs ranging from 13 to 31 miles.

Topping the list, the Smokies High Peaks Loop is one of the most epic running endeavors you will find east of the Mississippi. As mapped, this version of the loop is ~31-miles but can be shortened by starting at Alum Cave or at Newfound Gap. Some of the highlights include Charlie’s Bunion, Newfound Gap, Alum Cave, Mount LeConte, and the infamous Boulevard Trail. Expect a full day on the trail, carry a printed map, and have a backup should you need to cut the loop short. Bring a credit card along, too — there is a lodge and campground atop Mount LeConte that offers both drinks and snacks.

If the High Peaks Loop seems a bit too daunting, follow Kephart Prong Trail to Charlie’s Bunion on this route. It is one of the lesser-visited trailheads in the park, and a great option for some backcountry solitude before reaching Charlie’s Bunion. The “Jump Off,” another impeccable overlook, is located nearby. Making this loop even more versatile, Kephart Prong Shelter is located just 2 miles from the trailhead and the only shelter in the Smokies not located on the Appalachian Trail. It would make a great overnight spot to stage the run and would shorten the route to 11-miles, less the hike in and out.

If you’re coming from Waynesville or Asheville, consider the Hemphill Bald Loop (13 miles) or Mount Sterling Loop (18 miles). Both are spectacular long runs with epic mountain top views, and mostly along old, abandoned roadbeds. Due to seasonal road closures, Hemphill Bald is not accessible during the winter. In contrast, Mount Sterling begins at a large trailhead and seasonal campground suitable for larger vehicles, RVs, or trailers.

Disclaimer: Though we all love our trail dogs, they are not allowed on most trails within the GSMNP. A detailed description of their pet policy can be viewed here. If you’re planning a visit to the region with your pet, consider planning a run in either Pisgah or Nantahala National Forest instead. This guidebook showcases five of the top trail runs around and where to head for a beer. If you’re looking for a guide, White Dot Adventures is North Carolina’s first and only guide service dedicated exclusively to trail running tours.

Routes included

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